What’s in a Name?

8 09 2008

The name Safut is witnessed in the village next to the tell, although it is unclear from the early historical sources which came first.  The name does not appear to be related to any biblical name but the toponymics of the site can be described as follows:

Jinsafut ( a modern site identified by Knauf as the home of Gideon, biblical Ophrah) is easily recognizable as Canaanite *gan(n) sapot, ’garden of judgment’, or *gan(n) (ha-) shopet, ’garden of the judge’; safut can be traced to shopet in Aramaic transmission (Aramaic used the qatol pattern for nomina agentis), although the root shpt is lacking from Aramaic. Similarly, Tell Safut north of Amman bears a Canaanite name which, most likely, alluded to its domineering position overlooking the Baq’ah valley. It cannot, however, be totally excluded that Sâfût, is derived from a Caananite personal name Shaphat (e.g., Num. 13.5: from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori;), which would have sounded like [shapo:t] in Phoenician and [shåfåt] in Tiberian Hebrew and Aramaic.

(Adopted from Knauf, E.A. “Eglon and Ophrah: Two Toponymic Notes on the Book of Judges.” JSOT 51 (1991): 25-44.)